“Powerful is your arm! Strong is your hand! Your right hand is lifted high in glorious strength” (Psalm 89:13, NLT).
Well-muscled athletes have always been admired and held up as an ideal of physical beauty. Bodybuilding, which began in the late 19th century, is a billion dollar industry. Women as well as men spend lots of time and money in search of the perfect body, including the highly prized biceps, or guns as some people call them. Big guns equal power and strength and are quite impressive.
God has the original big guns, strong, powerful arms that created the universe and yet are gentle enough to cradle a bird with a broken wing. God’s strong right arm is a metaphor for his might in fighting battles for the Israelites and his protection of orphans and widows. He opens his hand to give blessings and he gathers his children as a hen does her chicks. Being seated at his right hand is a position of honor, which is where Jesus took his place after conquering sin and death. God’s guns truly are impressive—big, powerful and able to do it all, taking first place in any bodybuilding contest.
“O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph” (Psalm 77:13-15, NLT).
In the Disney movie Aladdin, the title character is tricked into descending into a cave to fetch a magic lamp for the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar. In this Cave of Wonders, Aladdin sees piles of treasure but is told not to touch anything or something bad could happen. Of course he does and he becomes trapped in the cave. His only way out is with the help of the magic genie from the lamp. In many ways, the “wonders” of this world are like the treasures in the cave. They seem wonderful, but often trap people in prisons of greed, broken relationships and misery.
God could be compared to a cave of wonders—filled with treasures, deep and somewhat hidden from view. Unlike Aladdin’s mythical cave where touching the treasure could lead to trouble, getting close to God only leads to good things—grace, forgiveness, love, mercy and renewal of the mind, heart and soul. He not only gives us these treasures, he is the treasure, our marvelous God of wonders who fills every need and loves us so much he did everything for us, including giving us the wonder of salvation and eternity with him.
“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, NLT).
From time to time, we hear of an obsessed fan stalking a celebrity. Stalkers can become aggressive, making life difficult for the one being pursued, even to the point of doing bodily harm. For the average person this isn’t a concern, but unfortunately some view God in this way. They think of him as an intruder into their lives and wish he’d just leave them alone.
God is not a stalker but he does pursue us. He wants to shower us with his love and grace, show us mercy and compassion and be the one we look to for daily strength and eternal salvation. He doesn’t force himself on anyone and doesn’t become weird or violent when people ignore him. He is the gentle one who reminds us of his presence through nature, displays his kindness in acts of love and sacrifice made by fellow human beings and loves us no matter what.
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you” (Isaiah 46:4, NLT).
My best friend in college lived in the same house her whole life (all 18 years!). Her parents and grandparents had also lived in that house and she and her family had long time relationships with all the neighbors. I on the other hand, had moved with my family several times before going to college and was amazed to meet someone like her. Not having to change homes, schools or leave friends behind seemed to make her a more secure person.
Friendships and relationships are often transitory in our mobile society. Moves and disruptions can leave us feeling lonely and without anchors. Friendship with God is the one relationship we can count on no matter what changes we go through in life. He is with us and supports us from beginning to end, carrying us through every phase. He gives us his saving grace all along the way and when we take our last breath. He is our before and after cradle-to-grave God.
“But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4, NLT).
Living in Arizona gave me a new perspective on heat. I’ll never forget the day I walked out of my air conditioned office into a 117 degree oven-like afternoon. I almost burned my fingers when I touched the door handle on my car and wished I’d had pot holders for the steering wheel. It wasn’t the kind of day for spending any time outdoors.
Sometimes life turns up the heat, with circumstances and problems that seem too hot for us to handle. That’s when we head for the shade of God’s shelter and his tower of refuge. It’s not cowardly as some believe, to escape the heat by seeking shade—it’s smart. Sheltering under God’s love and grace doesn’t mean we deny reality or live in a fantasy. He protects us and gives us strength to continue, with the tools and provisions we need to survive the high temperatures in the desert of life.
“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT).
In the natural order of things, parents love, nurture and protect their children. Sadly, we live in a fallen world, with lots of messed up relationships, abuse, neglect and abandonment. As a result of bad experiences with their dads, some have trouble relating to God as a father, believing he will treat them as badly or be as aloof and unloving.
It can be difficult to get past the baggage your father gave you and learn to trust God and be loved by him. It helps to remember God isn’t like us. He doesn’t have the pride, weaknesses, hang ups and mental issues some human fathers have. He is the perfect father, always loving and kind. He understands our broken hearts and won’t hurt us any further. Even if everyone else rejects and abandons us, he never will. The Holy Spirit, our comforter, will hold us close and reassure us of our real Father’s love.
“The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over” (Psalm 12:6, NLT).
One of my favorite lines from the movie Beauty and the Beast by Disney is the answer given to the Beast by Cogsworth when asked what he should give Belle as a gift: “Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.” Sadly, this is more than a funny line, it’s a reality in far too many relationships. We’ve all made promises we haven’t kept, unintentionally or otherwise.
We can’t trust ourselves or others to keep promises, but we can be sure God can. He made many promises in the Bible; some were fulfilled right away, some are for the future and a lot are “now but not yet” promises. But all of them will happen. His promises are like bars of pure silver you can take to the bank and his word is as good as gold.
“For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11, NLT).
When rich people give away money and possessions, we look at them and think, well that’s easy for them, they have plenty. When the not so rich are generous, we perhaps admire them a little more for making sacrifices to help others. There’s probably a whole psychology behind giving, but as I’m not into that stuff, I won’t go there. But for the Christian, it’s pretty simple: everything we have comes from God, he gives us both the desire and means to help others and in so doing, he is thanked and glorified.
God is the ultimate and first giver. He created the earth and put us here out of his love and with great generosity. He gave us chocolate—enough said. His whole way of life so to speak, is one of giving, generosity and sharing, all with joy, love and great extravagance. He lavished his grace and mercy on the whole world by making the ultimate sacrifice of his son. He doesn’t mean for us to keep his blessings, physical and spiritual, all to ourselves, but to be like Father, like son and daughter: to give, share and bless others as we have been blessed.
“And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NLT).
Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, a day we have set aside for almost 150 years for giving thanks to God for all his blessings. We have many things to be thankful for, no matter our situation in life. But the biggest blessing for all of humanity is God’s grace which gives us freedom from sin, death, guilt and fear. Grace also frees us to live in fellowship with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit and to experience his kingdom now.
Just as God loves us and lavishes his grace on us, he wants us to treat our fellow human beings in the same way. Living in a grace-filled manner and showing it to others is the best and most concrete way to show our gratitude for his grace toward us. May this day and every day be filled with gratitude to God and grace toward others. Happy Thanksgiving!
“I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free” (Isaiah 44:21b-22, NLT).
I really enjoy an occasional foggy morning. The air is heavy with moisture, sounds are muted and my neighborhood looks completely different. It rarely lasts long, burning off as soon as the sun rises a little in the sky. An hour later, you’d never know it had been there, hiding the houses and shrouding the world in mist.
We sometimes wonder how God, who surely has perfect memory, could possibly forgive and forget our sins so completely they are gone like the morning fog. We can’t seem to forget our own, let alone what others have done. But that’s just what he does in Christ. His grace sweeps away the dark clouds of our sin in an instant, fills us with love and gratitude and helps us see our way to return to his loving embrace.